Director: Uday Gurrala
Cast: Priyadarshi, Harshith Malgireddy, Gouri Priya, Mani Aegurla, Ravinder Bommakanti
Streaming Platform: Aha
There’s love at first sight, of course. It happens when attendance is being taken on the first day of college, and Roja (Gouri Priya) stands up, introducing herself as an aspirational athlete. Ravi (Harshith Malgireddy), sitting a few desks behind, is instantly smitten. But then, there’s also a love at first site — Ravi’s obsession with the computer, the latest innovation to come from the churn of technological revolution. This is 2005, and the internet and the computer have just come to the village of Manukota. (The romantic background music track usually played when lovers lock eyes, is played here for the first time when Ravi sees a printer eject a warm page of ink with his exam results. The results are irrelevant, it is the marvel that produced it that he cares about.)
The writer Jia Tolentino had written in her essay The I In The Internet, “The freedom promised by the internet started to seem like something whose greatest potential lay in the realm of misuse.” Mail is the story of that misuse. When Ravi is first introduced to the computer, at the gaming center recently opened by Hybath (Priyadarshi), he is instantly in love with the world beyond, made within the reach of a click.
After making his first e-mail ID, he wonders at night if anyone would have written to him, much like today we keep the phone by the bedside wondering what tidings new notifications bring. This is a prescient tale in that sense, about that moment in history when the internet came into our lives in the guise of innocent hope, only for it to morph into a hellscape, changing who we are as a civilization, fundamentally. Hybath notes, “The computer is an ocean”, but the greatest depths can also augur the deepest falls. The first thing Ravi learns about the computer is the virus. Soon he is swept up in a deluge of debt and deceit, all from the internet that promised him something else altogether.
There’s a mercurial innocence Malgireddy inhabits as Ravi, on that blurred line between innocence and stupidity, foolhardiness and aspiration, someone who would believe an email forward could bring bad luck if not forwarded to ten other people. But he’s also deeply forward-looking. In a village where everyone just wants to get by, he wants to learn how the computer works.
The village life is set up quite well— the loan shark Shivanna (Ravinder Bommakanti), the paddy farmers getting by, tethered from one loan payment to the next, Ravi’s bumbling friend Subbu (Mani Aegurla), his aspirational and intelligent neigbour Girija (Anusha Netha). A world comes alive. Roja comes and goes, but Gouri Priya’s moon-sized eyes with both weight and weakness keep us rooting.
The tone of the 2-hour film is neither entirely serious, nor entirely satirical, showing only strains of both. I was worried how this would end as a story given the serious undercurrent of debt and fraud, but the film finally reaches its end, which is neither funny nor gritty. It’s sweet, and this sweetness could be seen as both the allure and the failure of the film. But what else can be expected from a film about the internet?